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After feeling a lump in her right breast that seemed to show up overnight, Heather Sward was concerned enough to make an appointment with her primary doctor.
Sward, 41, is a graduate of Braham Area High School and lives with her husband, Jim, and their two daughters, Hannah and Kathryn, in Rush Point.
Sward first noticed the lump in her breast during the week of Jan. 28 and made an appointment.
“I was able to get into that appointment early the next week. That weekend we had a family trip planned with my husband’s family to Breezy Point, I felt great, cross-county skied with my girls; made me think that it was nothing, maybe a cyst. The lump was on my mind, but with how I felt, I wasn’t too concerned,” Sward said. “Monday, I met with my doctor and she agreed that I should get a mammogram due to my age, but also didn’t feel a reason for great concern, also thought maybe a cyst as well. She ordered the mammogram with diagnostics, meaning that the radiologist would look at it right away and determine if any reason for concern and further testing. I was able to get the mammogram scheduled for Friday of that week. On Friday, Feb. 7, (the day after my 41st birthday) I had my mammogram. The radiologist reviewed the images and decided to do an ultrasound of the area, which again caused concern and led to a biopsy. All of this was done within an hour and now to wait over the weekend for the results.”
Sward was at work on Monday, Feb. 10, when she learned the news that would dramatically change her life.
“I kept busy at work to make the time go faster, but it was always on my mind,” Sward said. “Towards the end of the day my doctor called with the results. It was, in fact, breast cancer. I was still at work and it brought a whirlwind of emotions and phone calls to my husband and parents to make. I have an amazing group of co-workers that were waiting with hugs and encouraging words. It was overwhelming to say the least, and we were scheduled to go to Florida on Thursday and my parents were already there waiting for us.”
Sward took the day off following her breast cancer diagnosis.
“Tuesday, Feb. 11, I stayed home from work as I was an emotional disaster after my girls went to school,” Sward said. “I had friends stop over and bring dinner, flowers and hugs. The support was so nice to know I wasn’t going to go through this alone. It was hard on everyone; I cried a lot those next few days as you don’t know what to expect and your mind goes to the worst-case scenario thoughts. We all did our best to stay positive.”
Sward’s next step was to schedule an appointment at the Piper Breast Center, and she was able to get an appointment scheduled for Feb. 12.
“We met with Dr. Rueth to get the news that this wasn’t the average breast cancer. We were in fact up against triple negative breast cancer; 15-20% of all breast cancers are triple negative. This cancer isn’t estrogen or progesterone fed and it is HER2 negative. It’s the most invasive, quickest growing, most likely to metastasize and hardest to treat breast cancer. Treatment would be determined by if it has metastasized or not. Chemo would be first either way and then it would determine if we would have a mastectomy or not.
“We decided to go to Florida, enjoy the family time, make memories and start our treatment as soon as we got home. We truly enjoyed Florida, not that it wasn’t on our minds the entire trip, but we were able to stay busy and enjoy the weather and company. We were ready to get home and start our fight,” Sward said.
Once the Sward family arrived back home, Sward was busy with tests and plans to determine her best treatment going forward.
“On Friday, Feb. 21, I had a PET (positron emission tomography) scan to determine if the cancer had spread and a surgery to get a port for my chemo infusions. On Wednesday, Feb. 26, we met with Dr. Rao, my oncologist in Cambridge, to get the results of the PET scan and learn what the treatment plan is going to be. We got the best news — the cancer had not spread. I cried happy tears. The plan was to start 20 weeks of chemo treatments with four different chemo drugs.
“I met with Dr. Rao every week to check blood counts and review any side effects I was having. I did end up with a few setbacks from low white blood counts but was able to get though my chemo treatments. My infusion nurses at Cambridge Medical Center were great; they were so supportive and made my weekly visits enjoyable. I actually miss seeing them all,” Sward said.
On Sept. 17, Sward had a double mastectomy and a complete hysterectomy due to the finding of having the BRAC2 gene defect.
“The day after my surgeries while still recovering at the hospital, I received the call from Dr. Rueth that the pathology reports came back,” Sward said. “The results were good; no cancer in my lymph nodes and no residual cancer in the breast. We had a 100% response to the chemo and were cancer free. Again, happy tears.”
Sward is currently still recovering from her latest surgeries, but feeling well.
“I have an appointment to determine if they suggest radiation still, but my oncologist doesn’t think that they will recommend it due to the 100% complete response to chemo,” Sward said. “I will then have follow up appointments every three months for a year and then move onto every six months unless I have any concerns or symptoms.”
Sward is grateful for her team at Cambridge Medical Center and Piper Breast Center.
“There were so many that helped make this journey as good as it could be at Cambridge Medical Center. Dr Rao was always willing to take the time to explain different questions I had for him, the nurses both in oncology and infusion, were so caring,” Sward said. “I also worked with Jocelyn, the social worker that helped process my Hope Fund assistance application and was so appreciated. Every step of the way I felt good about my team and those caring for me. I never second guessed any part of my treatment as it was communicated to me very well.
Sward said she knew she needed to find the strength to fight her breast cancer.
“I am a mom, wife, daughter and friend. I felt I had to push through for all those who are important to me. I have two little girls that need a mom and they shouldn’t have to live their lives around my cancer. It made me get up and going to enjoy my time with them,” Sward said. “I have amazing, supportive family and friends. I think that a support system is so important to fighting something of this scale. The cards, prayers, meals and well-wishes keep a person going, knowing you have so many in your corner.”